April 29, 2015

not a secret

i was walking with a fellow american after a yoga class.  we were talking about nothing and she started asking me questions about Myanmar.  just the usual stuff, then she asked how big the country was and i said about a 2 hour plane ride from border to border.  next she asked how many people and i said, 'the government census last year said there were 50 million but they don't count the people in the concentration camps.'  she thought that i was kidding.  it was just another one of thosse moments when i realize how crazy the country is and how little people know about it.

WAKE UP WORLD - there are concentration camps in Myanmar and it is not a secret.  in fact it's been quite widely reported.  and yes, someone should tell Obama.  he didn't mention it when he visited last November.

even Aung San Su Kyi doesn't talk about it and she's the poster child for human rights violations in the country.  i pray that behind the scenes people are working on this issue because it's not getting the attention it deserves.




April 28, 2015

Echo Beach

i flew in and spent a couple of days in the southern part of Bali because i wanted  to shop before i moved into more rural parts or the islands.  i'd been told not to linger in Kuta/Seminyak and that was good advice.  it's unimpressive and in some areas the touts are more than just annoying -  i don't care that they are selling viagra on the beach but some of them are obnoxious. 

Echo Beach is far enough up the coast to discourage the touts and it's a popular surf spot so lots of everything that goes along with that culture.  it's still strange for me to see so many westerners.  some days in Myanmar i go all day without speaking to a westerner.  then you show up at an expat event and there will be 150 and everyone is like 'where did all these westerners come from?'.  yeah, i know it's crazy.

the surf is very strong here and i am interested to take a lesson which i have never done but a couple of times when i went in to swim i was just tossed around like a rag doll so i need to start someplace much easier. in an amazing mixture of past centuries and present the beach is lined with graphiti fences amid the old temples.

Tanah Lot is one of the more spectacular shrines and it just north of Echo Beach so a few of us from yoga go for sunset one evening.  the days here are busy, wake up, yoga, eat, beach, massage, nap, pool, cocktails, sunset.  i'll be moving up to Ubud next which is in the middle of the island.  

April 20, 2015

my first trip to Bali

after all the time i have spent in SE Asia it seems a bit strange that i never made it to Bali.  the transit section of the KL aiport is especially boring.  wouldn't want to get trapped there for too long.  there wasn't even a major airline club room which seemed odd. so i arrived in Bali tired and hungry.  i'd been up for an early flight from Yangon, connecting in KL and getting to Bali took a little longer than expected.  i was immediately struck by how clean everything was and how nice the taxi drivers were.  the roads were good and traffic wasn't bad.  the hotel staff at Akmani were pleasant and helpful.  there were so many westerners everywhere. 

when i woke up on my first day i knew i needed to sort out my plans and i did, kind of, i knew i wanted to sit on the beach for a few days then head inland to Ubud and then out to Lombok.  i booked a hotel on Echo Beach just north of Seminyak.  it should be less touristy and the beaches cleaner. then i headed to the rooftop pool for a swim.  i met an Australian and we walked down to the beach for what turned out to be a spectacular sunset.  it felt so good to walk in the sand and i discovered something called Smirnoff Ice. 

it's an amazing feeling to see so many places where it's safe to eat and they have good fresh food.  in Myanmar a jaunt to a clean restaurant where the food is fresh and prepared without an excess of oil requires a 30+ minute taxi ride which i've already described. 

April 17, 2015

just running errands around town

before i'm off for the trip to Bali i have a bunch of errands that have piled up and there is no putting them off.  i've mapped out the trip around town and leave early in the morning to get as much as possible done before it gets really, really hot.  

i haven't driven anything except the scooter i had in Chiang Mai since i left the US and it's such a luxury for me to be driven everywhere.  westerners think that Asians drive really badly because we are so used to different road rules.  of course when they are in a western country they need to adapt to our rules but i don't think there is a higher accident rate in Asia than in western countries.  

in most of the SE Asian countries where i've been walking across the road is a bit like that game frogger but walking in Yangon is a totally different scenario.  those 'buddhists' will run your ass over in a heartbeat.  about once a month i will be in a taxi that hits a pedestrian. it's horrific.  one time it was a child about 6 years old and he hit him hard.  after the brother/friend picked up the boy the driver just kept going until he got to a traffic jam and then he got out and checked for what?  a dent? blood? 

the roads are packed with taxis because it's just in the last few years that the government has allowed the masses to buy cars - leading to the obvious problems like parking and traffic jams.  it's just a few dollars for a taxi ride but it can take 30 minutes to go 2 miles in some parts of Yangon.  motorbikes are forbidden in the city and there are very few bicycles because there are incomprehensible rules around that as well.  on some streets you are forbidden to ride bicycles and the police will confiscate the bike.  the problem is there's no way to know which roads are forbidden.  there are cyclos [we call them pedicabs] but they mostly operate off the main roads and again the rules seem to be murky.

the staff arranges a car/driver when i have meetings during the day but evenings and weekends i am on my own.  that involves standing on the road, trying not to get hit and flagging down a car.  then you have to negotiate a fair price [westerners get charged more of course] and depending on how hot it is - if they will turn on the ac for you. sometimes it's better to not have ac.  closing the windows and turning on the ac flushes out the mosquitoes [never figured out how there can be so many mosquitoes living in a car] and being paranoid about dengue, well...  also, the cars have tiny engines so the ac only works if the car is actually moving. 80% of the taxis are grimy and disgustingly dirty so it's a good day when you find a clean one.

i remember one day, there was a student protest moving into the city so traffic was especially bad.  i was in a taxi, it was hot and traffic was at a standstill for over 10 minutes.  i had a sinus infection so i felt miserable and the gas fumes from a bus in the next lane were overwhelming.  i looked up in annoyance at the bus and realized, on my worst day, i still had it so much better than most of the people of Myanmar.  imagine whatever horrible bus you've ever been on or seen a picture of it - i promise you it's much worse.

few westerners ever ride the city buses.  i only met one westerner who had done it.  it's a bizarre system where the bus drivers lease the bus by the day.  they are paid based on the number of riders they have so they compete with other buses to get to the stops quickly.  it takes a team of three people to man a bus  - the driver; the fare collector and the door guy whose job is to push people on/off the bus and to shout out the bus route/next stop. it's really chaotic and sometimes i stand on the street watching a busy stop for a few minutes.

but on this day i seem to get all the good taxis with ac and reward myself at the end of the day with a stop at my favorite foot massage place on Nawaday Road.  60 minutes $6US.

April 15, 2015

Thingyan - the Water Festival

the burmese new year called Thingyan falls in April.  it's a four day holiday that somehow gets stretched out to two weeks.  it's the hotest month before the rainy season begins and so not much gets done in April in Myanmar.  kind of like August in Europe or the US.  during the holiday, the tradition of sprinkling of water to cleanse the sins of the last year has transitioned into buckets and hoses of water drenching anyone in the street.

this of course is fun for the first five minutes but carrying around your mobile phone in a ziplock to make sure it doesn't get drenched gets old really quickly. 

so, everything shuts down.  in anticipation of the profits to be made during the festival they pull all the western products off the shelves so whie the warehouses are full the shelves remain empty.  Because of the sanctions and internal laws about foreign ownership there are not a lot of western brands in Myanmar anyway.  the expats further contribute to the problem by hoarding product [there just was a tonic shortage] when it's available.  every shopping trip is different because there you absolutely don't know what will be on the shelves.

during the there's a lot of drinking by the locals, roads are closed and some of the expats have been moved closer to housing closer to their offices.  i've decided it would be a good time to combine a visa run with a few weeks in Bali.

some things seem so crazy it's hard to explain well, here's an article from the paper that explain how the police intend to decrease sexual violence during the holiday.


April 13, 2015

education & critical thinking

my first month on the project here i was working very independently as i put together the market analysis and strategic sales and marketing plan.  in that time i heard a lot of frustration from expats about the local staff they worked with.  an assistant had been hired for me before i even started but she quit after one day because the HR guy introduced her around as an assistant instead of a deputy.  then as i started building staff to implement the project i began to understand what the other expats were talking about. 

all the nationals have bunches of certificates and 'degrees' which seems like it would be impressive.  but the certifications for the most part are worthless.  i met with the HR Director of a multinational oil and gas company and he said he can't justify hiring nationals with engineering degrees because they can't do the same work as engineers trained outside the country.  i had a westerner tell me he wouldn't hire anyone under the age of 30.

under the British rule [pre 1950] the education system was quite good.  so it is very common to meet 60 year old men who speak perfect english and can debate philosophy.  the staff i have is not like that.  they are not stupid but they have no critical thinking skills or any practical business skills at all.  most American teenagers have better computer skills than the 20ish college graduates here.    it's going to be a problem for the country for at least another generation.

teachers are one of the most highly respected professions but even at the university level some are paid only $90 month.  

this card says it all.  here's a woman with a bunch of degrees including one on Intellectual Property.  she misspelled Intellectual as Intelletual.